Interviews

Interview: Makerere’s Michael Niyitegeka

A. The progress is commendable. As a college we have a substantial number of our courses running on the Makerere University E-Learning Environment (MUELE) and this enables students to access study content on the net at anytime of the day. MUELE is accessible by all staff and students across the university and is versatile with lots of functionality that should enable the users a variety of options. Critical challenge that has been encountered is acceptance and  adaptability by both students and staff although that has been overcome by basically through trainings that have been conducted across the university.

Q. What steps/ frame work has the institution put in place to embrace and at the same time counteract the challenges faced while fusing ICTs into the education
system?

A.
1. Institutionalization of e-learning and in this case MUELE has had significant implications on the utilization of the platform.

2. Having a fulltime person incharge of e-learning is another positive step. The university has a fulltimee-learning manager who oversees integration of
e-learning in our delivery of teaching.

3. Administrative support by top management of the institution has had significant impact on integration of ICT’s in service delivery like registration online, soon we shall online applications and it is these that improve institutional service delivery.
4. Investment in infrastructure by the University as a well support from donor partners, the university has managed to deploy wireless network across the university including halls of residence to improve access

Q. What do you think would be the key challenges that policy makers wilin developing countries will have to contend with when making decisions about the integration of ICTs in education?

i. Relevance is critical and still remains a challenge, there is need to invest in content development that would in turn drive traffic or adoption.

ii. Shift in demographic trends; more students are becoming mobile and thus desire mobile devices, institutions need to come up appropriate strategies to enable the clients access devices at subsidized rates. It also means we need to have content that is mobile relevant and compatible with the mobile devices.

iii. Lack of clear understanding and appreciation at the same time lack of a national strategy on how to integrate the ICT’s. We are largely firefighters or late comers when it comes to embracing technologies.
iv. Lack of support for local developers; there are limited initiatives that target supporting local initiatives or developers so that local solutions can be born by local developers.

Q. The reality of the Digital divide i.e. the gap between those who have access to and control of technology and those that do not have, means that the introduction and integration of ICTs at different levels and in various types of education will be a most challenging undertaking. Failure to meet the challenge would mean a further widening of the knowledge gap and the deepening of existing economic and social inequalities. As policy makers, what steps have you taken to bridge the digital divide in Uganda? Or what steps should government take to reduce the digital divide? Not a policy maker!

A. Government should create incentives or partner with technology providers to bring the cost of access down. In Kenya the World Bank is supporting university students to access laptops at subsidized rates and the Kenyan
government is also supporting the initiative.
Similar initiatives could be undertaken by our government. For example the government could undertake a bulk purchase and then instead of providing student loans it could enable access to devices like laptops and
Netbooks

Q. Let’s talk about gadgets: what is your favorite gadget? Are you addicted to, say, your smartphone, laptop, or anything like that?

A. My work is basically on my laptop most times and yes my Nokia E72 with the Orange Internet does a fabulous work for me down loaded a couple of apps on this device. I admire Apple devices and that is my dream gadget, the more I read about Steve Jobs the more I want that device like yesterday.
Although Android devices are top of the range when it comes to playing with the internet so much to access and play with unlike apple that has restrictions. Definitely the tabs are going to redefine use of devices. Not addicted to devices although sometimes I tend to be.

Q. Talking about social media: we’ve seen unprecedented growth in the number of users of both Facebook and Twitter in Africa over the last few months. Do you think that is an indication that Africa – especially Sub Saharan Africa – is ready to effect both social and political change through such media as seen in North Africa?

A. I don’t think so because the people on these media are not on the streets, they are waiting for someone to break the news and then it runs like wildfire. We still have challenges of illiteracy and common language and that has implication on usage. Secondly the cost of using new media on the current mobile internet rates is not user friendly for everyone. Then you have quality of devices, majority of the mobile phones are low end devises that can not access internet. That is however going to change with the coming of relatively priced devices like Ideos powered by Android. We are going to see more people accessing internet on the devices.

Q. Last week the Uganda Communications Commission attempted to block social networking sites: if you had to address the management of the commission, briefly what would you tell them about that move?

A. Wrong move! I would advice them to appreciate the value of social media and rather than ban, I would encourage them to learn how to engage with these communities online. Majority of these people online mean
good and are engaged in a debate that they should tap in and influence rather than banish. Besides there are a number of social media not known to these people so blocking one or two will not have significant impact on usage.

Q. On a personal note, what is your motivation in life and what advice do you have for young academics and practitioners in the ICT sector in Africa?

A. My passion is to enable others to realize their passion and dreams. My advice is that everyone ought to discover him/herself only then can you appreciate the true meaning and fulfillment of life.

Q. Any specific message to the team at PC Tech Magazine?

A. Great Job! Thank you for filling the gap that existed and proud its being run by our very own Ugandans. Best of luck.

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